The Future of Security: Mapping the 5G ecosystem in India

Synergia Foundation hosted its 55th Forum on the future of Security in India, focusing on the 5G networks. The forum saw the participation of prominent civil servants, industry leaders and technology developers from across the country.

Background 
5G networks are digital cellular networks, in which the service area covered by providers is divided into a mosaic of small geographical areas called cells. 5G is expected to advance wireless networking by bringing fibre-like speeds and extremely low latency capabilities to almost any location. 5G is approximately 20 times faster than 4G.

In April 2019, South Korea became the first country to adopt 5G. Just hours later, Verizon launched its 5G services in the United States, and disputed South Korea's claim of becoming the world's first country with a 5G network.
The existing LTE networks can support up to 4000 devices over an area of 1 sq.km whereas 5G networks are expected to support over 1 million devices, including Internet of Things (IoT) as well as Industry 4.0 hardware. 

Analysis

One of the biggest risks to 5G networks is the potential disruption to critical infrastructure. Unlike threats to 4G and older networks, the real-world applications of 5G involving the Internet of Things (IoT), makes its network infrastructure a likely target to immobilize essential communication networks of the future.

It is extremely important for India to reduce its overwhelming dependence on foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) for supplying next-generation telecommunication equipment. This view is supported by articulating an overarching vision that not only lays a roadmap for combating key threats to the implementation of a 5G Network but also incentivizes key stakeholders to cooperate and leverage mutual strengths, concluded the experts at Synergia Foundation’s 55th Roundtable held in Bangalore on May 22, 2019.

The objective of the forum was to bring together key stakeholders to work towards a framework for the design and development of indigenous 5G technologies, products and solutions while securing the intellectual property and for secure 5G deployment. The prevalent issues with existing networks have been the threat to the data transmitted but 5G faces a different and a more fundamental threat. Unlike 4G LTE, disruption of the communication infrastructure is the biggest risk for 5G networks. The paradigm of security in 5G is continuously transforming as technologies evolve and newer use cases and applications become pervasive. Securing undersea cables is critical from a cybersecurity perspective and a calibrated approach is crucial for aligning national security, internal capabilities, investment needs and strategic intent.

Wireless carriers around the world are sprinting to adopt next-generation networks - which offer faster data rates, reduced latency, energy savings, cost reductions, higher system capacity and massive device connectivity - as a chance to get out in front for the first time. If big data is the new oil of the digital era, then 5G is the set of pipes that will deliver it. A key discussion in the forum was the agreement of a ‘critical’ window for India to develop a coherent plan for 5G networks. Participants agreed on a broad 12-24 month timeframe within which India should plan and execute a national mission for 5G technology. The mission was also described as being like the nation’s Atomic Energy and Space programs.
Some challenges to 5G include the lack of domestic device manufacturing capabilities. Firstly, the problem with domestic manufacturing is that by the time India develops and set a product into production, the market is flooded with cheap foreign alternatives from companies who enjoy tremendous economies of scale. Secondly, participants pointed out that in order to boost the security of a 5G network, there has to be a control over device manufacturing processes. Lastly, India should focus on the production of 5G-capable chipsets, as there exists a large pool of Intellectual Property (IP) and premier institutes like IIT Madras and IIIT Hyderabad has successfully developed local alternatives to foreign OEM-made chipsets.

Assessment 

Our assessment is that 5G is going to revolutionise every part of our lives, while also dramatically increase the speed and accuracy of everyday communications. We believe that the biggest threat to India’s future 5G network is not data theft but the disruption of 5G services, which will be integrated too deeply for most of our industries to function without it. We feel that the Indian government has to treat 5G networks like a national mission, much like how we did it for our Atomic Energy and Space programs.

 

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